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Panetta vows there are no plans to close Eielson Air Force Base

Alaska Dispatch

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday got Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s assurance that an Air Force proposal to move a squadron of F-16 jets from Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage isn’t a precursor to shuttering Eielson, or what some call a “Backdoor BRAC.”

“I just want you to know … that we have no intention of closing down Eielson,” Panetta told the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, according to a press release from Murkowski’s office. “It’s a very important base for us. It’s important for air refueling.  It’s important in terms of the role that we want to be able to play with regards to the Pacific.  Nothing that is being recommended here in any way is intended to impact Eielson as a future base for the Air Force.”

Murkowski listed concerns some Alaskans have about the plan to move the squadron to JBER.

• Concerns about the 168th Air National Guard’s refueling unit’s future;

• An Anchorage-area housing shortage and the impact of a flood of vacancies in Fairbanks;

• Insufficient vetting of the proposal and whether it will actually save the Air Force money.

“I will commit to you that I will go back and make sure I understand their plan better and then I’ll engage with you on it personally,” promised Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Overall, the Pentagon is facing cuts of about $500 billion in projected spending over 10 years on top of the $492 billion that President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in last summer's deficit-cutting budget. That amounts to about a 20 percent across-the-board cut.

"It was designed as a meat ax," Panetta said, according to The Associated Press. "It was designed to be a disaster. Because the hope was, because it's such a disaster, that Congress would respond and do what was right.”